When my husband and I were traveling to Bermuda a few weeks ago for the World Triathlon event, it got us thinking about the logistics of flying with a bike. I was lucky to have a bike rental option available, but I know a lot of people might prefer traveling with their own bikes.
Whether or not to use your own bike or rent a bike is probably the biggest decision to make as far as your destination race, and there upsides and downsides to each method. The cost can also vary a bit from option to option.
You may also be reading this to just figure out logistics for traveling with a bike for a non-race vacation – and most of these points are relevant for you too!
Pros/Cons and Cost of Bike Transport Options:
Renting a bike on location may mean not knowing exactly what kind of bike you’ll have until you get there (depending on way rental orders are processed), and possible sizing issues if there’s a lot of demand for your frame size. You will likely be in a slightly different position than on your bike at home – not a major concern for short races, but something to consider for long ones.
That said – if you’re not super competitive, it can be far less of a hassle to rent compared to bringing your own. You don’t have to worry about getting a big bike box to and from the airport, particularly in your destination where you may be taking a cab or Uber. The rental process is usually very simple, and many rental companies will do a tune-up and fitting for you on site to ensure you’re all ready for race day.
Plus, my bike rental for the Bermuda Tri was about 10x as nice as my actual bike at home, haha!
The cost of renting a bike will vary based on where you’re traveling to, the size of the race, and if there is a preferred rental vendor contracted for the race. You’re usually looking at anywhere from $50 on the very low end for a basic bike (hybrid, road, or mountain), and $500+ on the high end for a top of the line option.
Flying with a Bike:
Bringing your own bike, on the other hand, gives you the comfort of riding what you are familiar with, and you know the sizing is right.
The downside is the need to purchase a bike box or bag, and knowledge of how to pack it and rebuild it. There’s also always the worry that it could be mishandled by the airline, or during a TSA inspection.
If you are flying with a bike, here’s the current costs in US Dollars that you can expect by airline for each way of your travel:
*Note that these may change as airlines adjust fees; these are current as of May 2018. You can click on the link for each airline to be taken to their policies page with the most up-to-date information.
- American Airlines – $150 each way
- Delta – $150 each way ($175 CAD if exiting Canada; $125 EUR if exiting Europe)
- Frontier – $75 each way
- JetBlue – $50 each way
- Spirit – $75 each way
- Southwest – $75 each way
- United – $150 each way between the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; $200 each way for all other travel.
As an aside, most airlines do provide an exception if your bike is packed in a bag/box less than 62 inches and under 50 lbs. It’s going to be hard for most adult bikes to fit these standards, but if you are traveling with a kids bike you may be able to get away with just a regular baggage fee (typically $20-30, and even free with some airlines or ticket classes).
Shipping Your Bike:
This third option is sometimes forgotten about, but depending on where you are traveling and how comfortable you feel packing your bike, you may do better financially by shipping your bike.
The cost of shipping a cardboard bike box can be as cheap as around $40 each way ($80 round trip) using something like FedEx ground, up to $200-300 each way ($400-$600 total) if you need expedited shipping, if you’re traveling far, or if you’re using a larger and/or hard case box.
If you decide to go the route of bringing your bike on a plane, here are some good options for packing your bike:
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Hard Bike Case:
These are thought to be a bit more durable with airline handling, but more cumbersome and possibly tougher for TSA to open and inspect properly.
This is relatively reasonably priced bike case, and most people seem quite happy with it. The hard-shell design means it’s durable and reliable. The only downsides some people reported were worries about TSA inspections leading to incorrect repacking of the case.
B&W has several hard bike box options, ranging from $250ish on the lower end up to $750ish on the higher end. You should check out the specifications for their different products, as some are designed for different types/sizes of bikes. A few people mentioned that TSA had difficulty figuring out how to open/close the case, but an Amazon user had a great suggestion of writing instructions on the case itself in white sharpie to help guide them.
I’ve heard nothing but amazing reviews of Bike Box Alan. It’s a high quality hard case that includes a unique one piece steel anti crush pole built in, helping to ensure protection of your favorite bike. It also comes with a 7-year guarantee.
Soft Bike Bag:
These have a flexible outer layer and contain a good amount of padding to keep everything in place and as safe as possible. They’re easier to get around the airport – especially if you’re flying solo – but not necessarily as durable as a hard case.
Cardboard Bike Box:
You can also go the route of a cardboard bike box, which may be available rom your local bike shop. These are likely cheaper (or possibly even free) and you can also toss extra gear into them as it fits. The downsides are that they are usually a bit larger and harder to maneuver around than a bike case. You also have to be sure you carefully pack everything with ample padding.
It’s also worthwhile to note that some airlines restrict cardboard bike boxes on international flights – for example, JetBlue only allows cardboard boxes on domestic flights.